Name Calling Mad Libs (a parenting experiment)

 In graduate school I remember learning about Jean Piaget, one of the big-wigs of educational psychology, and being dumbstruck that his theories began as small experiments on his kids. “You can do that?” I thought, followed by “What if everyone did this?”

It could be huge if schools were open to randomized trials and parents were open to suggestions. Of course, this never happened.

This doesn’t mean  that can’t experiment on my kids. One of the biggest lessons parenting lessons I’ve learned is that I often don’t know what’s best for my kids. My parenting style is like a quilt your grandmother might have made. It’s got a bit of stuff from here, some more from over there, some leftover pieces from something else. I believe the technical term is, “hodgepodge.”

Except this one new thing. We’ve started mad libs style name calling. If you aren’t familiar with mad libs, they were short stories you could write by filling in the blanks. For example.

_____ (name) went to the _______ (place) so that she could get a small container of _____ (thing) to _____ (verb) that night.

Our version focuses just on names and involves something we can see. “Refrigerator elbow,” and “applesauce brain,” are two common ones when we are in the kitchen.

My theory with this is that all names kids call people (dingbat, jerk, asshole) are all just names. If I can get my daughters to think that name calling is silly now, maybe something from that will transfer over to when the names aren’t so goofy. Maybe this builds some resilience. These mad libs are like a mental flu shot, small and weak onslaughts to defend their system. I have no idea if it it’s going to work or not, but that’s our experiment.

What I’ve been reading and writing.

Gazooks! I forgot to write a weekly summary last week because I was in Maine for a wedding. Wow, Maine was beautiful, I can see why people go there. It was a long trip from Ohio, and if you don’t want to make that sort of trek, the shores of Michigan (and most Maine-y of all, Mackinac Island) are a great substitute. Let’s catch up on what I’ve read and written since the last weekly review.

Take a vacation without kids (as we did) and you’ll remember that, yes, vacations are relaxing and great for reading. I finished The End of Your Life Bookclub and while it didn’t bring me to tears, it released an emotional ooze inside of me. Not only is it a great book but it deals with life and loss and mothers – three things I experienced a decade ago. I wish I had done something like this when my mom was alive and I’m trying to figure out how to do it with the people I love.

I finished reading Filters of Folly. This book is about using a literate, numerate, and ecolate filter for decision making. It means asking; do the numbers make sense, does the story make sense, and then what happens after we do this? The book has more depth than a few lines can convey (but don’t all books?) but I’m glad I read it.

I also read – remember, I took a kid-free trip – Pirate Hunters. It’s so good. In fact, I read Robert Kurson’s other book, Shadow Divers earlier this year and one of my uncles at the wedding and I talked about that book together. Plus, my Robert Kurson trilogy was completed when I found his first book, Crashing Through at a used book store in Maine.

What I published the last two weeks:

We are enjoying our last full week of summer here before the kids head back to school and I really won’t know what to do with myself.

// Lighthouse is from Boothbay Harbor, Maine.


The Book of Your Life


Another good week has been written to the books of history – and what a small entry it was.

This week my seven-year-old and I made up a list of all the things we’ve done this summer and all the things we still want to do. What a list. My daughters stayed with grandma and grandpa while my wife and I went to Alaska. We’ve also been to lakes to Michigan and Indiana where they tubed and paddle boarded.

The kids have been to two zoos, one amusement park, a trampoline place (palace if you ask them), and we’ve eaten lots of ice-cream. Together we’ve built climbing walls, bubble wands, and giant dice. We’ve read books, watched movies, and played games.

I’ve started the book, The End of Your Life Bookclub and one character points out that the more she reads, the more she realizes what she doesn’t know. That’s been true for my reading as well. When I finished reading about sunken U-Boats, I realized how little I knew about World War 2. When I finished Elon Musk, I realized how little I knew about technology and the current pace of work.

Each book I read makes me realize how little I know about it. If I finish a good one I hop on to Amazon to see what related books might be good too. My guess is that this is the same feeling drug addicts have when they want a little bit more.

While I like this when I read,  I’m trying to avoid it within my own life. In each moment I get at a lake, eating ice-cream, or in the car – I’m trying to remember it in full color. I want to be able to think back to the summers we spent together as a family and know that I’m getting a full picture, rather than snippet of what a book about it would show. It’s fine that I don’t know everything related to what I read, but I don’t want to feel that way about my own life.

Weekly review #37.

This week I read Ray Dalio’s Principles and took notes on it. It’s free and is a great piece on how one successful person makes decisions. I also started reading The End of Your Life Bookclub and a few other things. I’ll be traveling next week and will settle into one of the books.

I published Ancient Productivity Advice That’s Relevant Today about what I learned from Seneca about getting things done. The importance of solving your biggest problem first was inspired by the book Elon Musk. I also wrote up notes from the Tom Rath and Jim Kwik interviews with James Altucher. Finally, I drafted Ramit Sethi’s guide to starting a business, culled from the Smart Passive Income Podcast.

Don’t forget the little things

Last weekend I ran in a local 5K race. It was a nice event put on by a nice group of people for a nice cause. Everything about it was nice.

After I finished and got a water, I walked back along the course to cheer on the other runners. There were probably a few hundred people at the event (a nice sized crowd for a race this size) but not many to cheer others on. I pulled surrogate duty of family, friend, and spouse and added a few words of encouragement.

Short races like this have a lot of people that just want to try it. They think they can run 3.1 miles and work hard to do so. It’s a great challenge for some people and it was great for me to see them finish. They put in not only time and effort, but went out on a limb to do it. It’s not easy to do something hard in front of other people. I would never strap on my guitar and play in front of others. No way. Those runners, I think, conquered that fear, they showed up.

I did this because of small moment. Two years ago I was reading Born to Run and there is one small part about Scott Jurek. At the time Jurek was the Michael Jordan of the ultra-running world, but he did something after every race. He would cheer on all the other runners. These are 50 mile+ races but Jurek went out and cheered on every last runner as they finished.

If the best runner in the world can go and do that after a major ultra-marathon, then I can do that to in our nice 5K.

In some of the realms I work online this idea doesn’t stick. There are advice columns, books, and articles that focus on the 80/20 rule, doing big things, and moving the needle forward. But we can’t always calculate what those things are. There is no way Jurek grew up as a runner and thought, “if someone ever writes a book about me I hope they include this part about how I cheer runners on and some dude in Ohio reads it.” Life doesn’t happen that way.

The thing I learned is this, don’t forget about the little things. If there’s something small you can do that makes a difference to someone else – do it. You never know what sort of trickle down effects it might have.

Weekly review 36 of what I’ve been reading, writing, and doing.

Last week I decided on a plan to read more, and it’s worked great. Not only am I ripping through Yes!, and Against The Gods, but I’m also listening to Elon Musk. All are very good and will be finished by next week. I can already tell that the Musk book is going to be too short. I’m about halfway through and PayPal and Zip2 have already taken place without much detail. I don’t fault the author Ashlee Vance, those periods could be books on their own, but I wanted more.

This week I wrote up notes from Howard Marks’ interview with Barry Ritholtz. Marks explained some big ideas in clear terms and it was well worth a listen to. Plus, he credited the role luck played in his success, something his peers don’t often say.

I also wrote about the changing career landscape that’s coming into view. This post took a long time to get right, and I’m proud of the conclusions I reached. The general takeaway is that we are quite bad at figuring out how valuable we are at our jobs. Due to this, we don’t see when we won’t be valuable anymore, but if we do recognize it, we can take helpful steps. It’s a big idea I’d like to come back to someday.

// Photo is of a clay face at my father’s home. We’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time with family this summer.


This hasn’t been a good week of reading for me – again. Even though I finished Shadow Divers (very good!), I still didn’t read at my normal pace. After multiple weeks of this less-than-average reading I began to wonder why.

Why am I not reading?

If I’m not reading that must mean I’m doing other things, and this situation wasn’t bad per se. I shouldn’t replace salad with ice cream for dinner, but it’s fine to replace running with cycling. The question then, wasn’t why am I not reading. It’s, what am I doing instead of reading?

This summer has been filled with great times. My daughters and I explored the woods behind our house and got icecream sundaes. We’ve swam, biked, and painted part of our swingset. It’s been a good summer for family time and I’m blessed to be able to spend so much quality time with the people I love – but not all of my time.

As a stay at home parent I’ve always yearned for a connection and challenge away from my daughters. I need to “go to work” in some regard. In the past that meant teaching part-time at colleges. Now that means what I write and create online. This professional part of my life is as important to me as the family and health parts.

Part of that professional life includes reading books. I cite books, I get ideas from books, I become a better writer by reading books. So, if I’m not reading books then I’m not developing professionally.

Right? Maybe.

As I looked back on the last month I realized that even though I haven’t been reading books, it’s been for good reasons. I’ve been reading some PDF files rather than books. I’ve listened to many podcast episodes that have been informative. I’ve been writing more than normal. I’ve been doing my professional work, just not one particular part of it.

But reading is an important part that I need to do more of. Like my daughters (and dogs) will climb into bed and pop me out like peas in a pod, I need to wiggle reading back into the professional part of my life.

How to fix it.

If my time was like a pie chart, what would it look like?

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 7.05.40 AM

Within professional work are reading, writing, learning, etc. The problem then is this; it’s not that I’m not working enough, it’s that I’m not balanced in the work I do.

That’s the goal for the upcoming week, to be more balanced in my work.

What I’ve been writing and reading.

Even though it’s been a slow reading month, I did finish two books. The first was Shadow Divers, which was excellent. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned  later (beyond, how to swim through a submarine), but the book combined both a great story and big ideas.

I also finished The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success. This was my first exposure to Deepak Chopra, and, meh. At some pages I was entranced but a few pages later the spell was broken. If I read more of his work it will be by strong recommendation only. It’s not bad, it’s just not for me.

This week I published notes on a Brett McKay interview, and chat with Robert Greene.

// Flowers are from a garden at the Toledo Zoo. Some of the family time that I’ve had this summer.

How do you swim through a sunken submarine?

For one of the books I’m working on, there is a section titled “dive deep.” This part of the book is about how much knowledge you need before you can successfully proceed.

I got the idea for the term from Dr. Burger and his book, The Five Elements of Effective Thinking. In it, Burger compares deep knowledge to the element earth. You have to deeply understand what you are studying or else everything above it will fall.

One of his examples — and one I’ve seen firsthand — is when a student entered his office to say that they knew the material for an exam, they just couldn’t explain it. “If you can’t explain it,” Burger writes, “you don’t know it.”

Once I gave a name to it, I started seeing how crucial deep knowledge was. In my book I have a few examples.

  • How do comedians shut down a heckler without losing the audience? Both Carol Leifer and Brian Koppelman struggled with this. Only after they learned a certain technique did their comedy routines improve.
  • Alex Blumberg was a top storyteller on the radio, but when he tried to be one on television he flopped. Blumberg didn’t know how a certain part was different between the two.
  • Why did Dick Yuengling know to invest in a mechanized lift for his brewery rather than spend the money elsewhere?
  • Chris Hadfield writes about knowing the “boldface,” time tested truths for successful flights and accident sequences for unsuccessful ones. Knowing the boldface is to know the problem solving sequence for nearly anything that can go wrong.

So how do you swim through a sunken submarine?

You have to know the submarine. John Chatterton was part of a team of divers that discovered a U-boat 60 miles off the New Jersey shore. It was an amazing find, but inaccessible. The wreck was 200+ feet deep. Fewer than 1% of all divers were skilled enough to go that deep. The sub was on its side. Some parts were overgrown by the sea, others were eroded beyond recognition.

If you even made it that deep, you had to deal with “the viz.” That is, when you swim around a wreck the slightest flipper flip or wall bump unleashes millions of pieces of tiny debris. Imagine what happens when you hand a snow globe to a six-year-old boy. Now imagine you are in the globe trying to see.

To safely explore the submarine Chatterton had to know the submarine. To do that he flew to a Chicago museum and walked through a similar sub that was on display there. Then he did it again. He did it 8 times in all. He visualized how the compartments would open and things would fall out as it went down. He studied procedures the crew would have taken if their ship had been struck. He learned all this so he had a deep knowledge. Then he swam through the sunken submarine.

That’s how you swim through a sunken submarine — and that’s how you successfully do anything in life.

Weekly review 34, what I’ve been reading and writing.

The sub story is from the incredible Shadow Divers which I’m part of the way through. I’m still reading Influence for the book club and listening to Jim Gaffigan’s Food: A Love Story. It’s been a great week for reading.

I published notes for Michael Singer’s interview with James Altucher. Michael Shelton was kind enough to share good things to read, watch, and use.

:: * I’ll be calling this the Rumpelstiltskin effect shortly.

:: The story of “how do you swim through a sunken submarine was first published on Medium.

:: Photo is of fish off the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean Sea, about the opposite situation of the submarine divers.

The Madam and the Maid – a Joke

Aquarium fishLast week I wrote about the icebergs and cycles of hard work, this week I have nothing as insightful to share. It’s been a fun filled week and we watched fireworks on Friday night. Instead, here’s a joke I heard this week.

Maria, a maid, asks her boss for a raise.

Her boss is annoyed and asks, “Now, Maria, why do you think you deserve a raise?”

Maria: ‘Well, Señora, there are three reasons why I want an raise. First, I iron better than you.’
Wife: ‘Who said you iron better than me?’
Maria: ‘Your husband said so.’
Wife: ‘Oh.’
Maria: ‘The second reason is that I am a better cook than you.’
Wife: ‘Nonsense, who said you were a better cook than me?’
Maria: ‘Your husband did.’
Wife: ‘Oh.’
Maria: ‘My third reason is that I am a better lover than you..’
The wife is obviously upset: ‘Did my husband say that ?’
Maria: ‘No, Señora, the gardener did.’
Wife: ‘So, how much do you want?’

This is weekly review 33:

I’m reading Influence for or book club and Food: A Love Story.

This week I published Five Proven Ways to have a Better Work Day and What J.K. Rowling and Tim Ferriss have in common. I also wrote a summary of Steven Kotler’s interview with James Altucher and Continued Chain Reactions at Better Humans.

:: Photo is from the new Toledo Zoo Aquarium.

The Icebergs and Cycles of Hard Work

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo

This week there were two notable observations in my life. The first was that hard work is basically iceberg assembly. It’s a process of building an unseen foundation and eventually breach the surface. The second is that hard work happens in cycles, and this week has not been a productive cycle.

The thoughts about how an iceberg represents a career/book/life coalesced this week while I  was working on a rough draft of something. Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister had originally used the analogy and I was trying to retell his story with an emphasis on that part.

Later in the week two different people told me that it was a good analogy and I began to internalize it more. Once I began to accept the “iceberg theory” as a thing. Once I gave it a name, I began to see it more places.

Yesterday I was looking for an old computer file and realized I must have close to 200K words of unpublished stories and ideas. They are evidence of my iceberg, but I can’t just build mass. I need to chisel while I add. To do this I’ve started to work with an editor.  It’s going to take even longer this way, but it’s the only way to get something sustainable that will rise above the water.

Work goes in cycles. Another easy to see point that’s been clarified even more. We have family in town and it’s been great seeing my nieces, nephews, and in-laws. But it’s been hard to do work. The constraints of less time during the day have forced me to prioritize what I get done in the mornings.

I saw this too while I was on vacation and read three books in ten days. I was a reading fool. My pace has slowed down considerably but hasn’t stopped.

This is weekly review 32, here’s what I’ve been reading and writing. 

I’m reading Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. It’s good but I quit Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs because his writing is so heavy. Not heavy as in hard to read, but heavy as in thick. I’ve also been nibbling away at The Practice of Practice.

In July our book club is reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion if you want to join in.

It was a good week for publishing. I shared 3 Things I Learned from Mike Lombardi and Scott Adams. I also published notes about David Bach’s talk with James Altucher.

::Photo is from the Princess Denali Lodge. I was told to be wary of the wildlife and was preparing to defend myself.

A Decision Making Tool (Weekly Review 31)


I love new heuristics. Like a fishing captain that’s looking for new places to take a charter, I’m always on the lookout for decision makings tools.

Two of my recent favorites are  the Schulich technique and think about your time like money.

A new one that I’m testing is; choose things that deviate from the norm.

I missed a chance to do this this week after my nephew’s baseball game. I joked to him that we should run back to his house (he’s running cross country this fall is needs to run 100 miles this summer). He took me up on it, but when I looked at the sandals I was wearing I had to pass.

I should have ran.

Doing new things is part of the way we get stories in our lives. It’s part of the way we learn about the world. It’s part of our existence.

Right now both my daughters are still asleep because they’ve been sharing the futon on the basement this summer. At first I tried to limit this to one day a week. Then after I carefully weighed all the options, (and listened to my wife) I told them they could sleep down there. And why not?

For the rest of the summer I’m going to try new things.

What I’ve been reading.

The Practice of Practice has been very good and is just what I expected it to be. Many books in this area (Gladwell, The Power of Habit, etc.) are either too broad or too focused on academic research. The Practice of Practice solely focuses on musicians and how they get better.

But in that are  ideas to apply to other domains. The ideas of “ass power” and “GIGO” are both things that you could apply to guitar playing but also writing or teaching. The book reminded me that:

“Talent is practice in disguise.”

I’ve got many other books on my shelf, but that’s the only one that’s hooked me this week. If you want the full list of what I’m reading, you can subscribe to my monthly email.

What I’ve been writing.

This has been a good week of writing for me. As I looked back, I realized there are three things I need to do each week; collect, draft, and edit. Collection is getting ideas to write about via experiences, books, or podcasts. Draft is when I type words on the screen. Edit is when I – as as Michelangelo put it – “take away anything that isn’t David.” Some things that came from this process this week:

Photo is looking down over Juneau Alaska after climbing Mt. Roberts. Something that we might not have normally done.

Coming back from Alaska (Weekly Review #30)

For ten days over the last two weeks, I’ve been on an Alaskan cruise with my wife (and no kids!). Hence the lack of blog posts here. But as all good things come to an end, so did our cruise. But this also means I get to see my kiddos again, do the routines I enjoy, and see the people I love.Another post on the full scope of the cruise will be coming, but in this weekly review I wanted to share one big idea – people.

Another post on the full scope of the cruise will be coming, but in this weekly review I wanted to share one big idea – people.During our

During our cruise, we sat with six other people (all couples) and had a great time. There was a farmer from Oklahoma, a travel agent from California, and a retiree from the west coast. Even though we were all different (age, geography, political alignment) we felt so similar. We ate at our table, talked about our days, and shared our stories.This connection to strangers was welcoming because it reaffirmed my belief that people are generally good. Most people are people we can connect with. Most people are more similar than not. Most people are just like you. (And me)

This connection to strangers was welcoming because it reaffirmed my belief that people are generally good. Most people are people we can connect with. Most people are more similar than not. Most people are just like you. (And me)
Except, when people are waiting in lines.Have someone wait in a line and it’ll bring out their worst side. People want to rush to get their turn, their time, their thing.

Have someone wait in a line and it’ll bring out their worst side. People want to rush to get their turn, their time, their thing.
One instance was when we had to get off our plane in Fairbanks because of a mechanical problem. Even though the captain, flight attendants, and gate agents assured everyone they would rebook them if it came to that, people still waited in lines.I waited too, and wow were there awful things said. People were so selfish. It was

I waited too, and wow were there awful things said. People were so selfish. It was as-if everyone there was unfamiliar with the idea of airline delays and expected things to operate more like a TV schedule.The dichotomy was interesting and hopefully I’ll remember this the next time I’m in line. Small talk, a smile, and question about someone’s day will go a long way to making it a better experience.

The dichotomy was interesting and hopefully I’ll remember this the next time I’m in line. Small talk, a smile, and question about someone’s day will go a long way to making it a better experience.

What I’ve been reading.

If you want to read more, go on a cruise, no internet means fewer options. Some books I’ve recently enjoyed include Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Joran Ellenberg’s How Not To Be Wrong, and Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day.
– Bryson is so funny and this book is evidence to that. Plus he uses big words I’d like to familiarize myself with like; supine, ferrule, and skinflints.
– Ellenberg was smart and funny. Like Malcolm Gladwell and Nassim Taleb conjoined to teach an introductory statistics course.
– Venkatesh was smart too, but in a different way. His book made me think about poverty (and along with Ellenberg), in a new way.

What I’ve been writing.

Being gone for two weeks I may miss something, but here’s the list. What Rick Ross knows about organizational management.
My productivity experiment.
Planning a productive summer.
Today predicts your future

For the curious
supine -lying face upward.
ferrule – a ring that strengthens a handle or tube that keeps it from splitting.
skinflints – a person who spends as little money as possible, a miser.

Used Clothing (Weekly Review 29)

There’s something disgusting about used stuff. That someone has touched it. Worn it. Done-who-knows-what with, on, and in it.

It’s gross to wear clothes that someone else has worn. Their dead skin cells occupy the gaps like college students might squeeze into a hotel room. The clothes smell like someone else. They are worn.

We don’t tolerate used stuff in other areas of our life. We don’t buy used computers and iPods. We don’t read used books. We don’t live in used homes. We don’t drive used cars.
Wait. That’s exactly what we do.

We use used things all the time. Right now I’m writing this post on a new computer, but it’s surrounded by used books. The shirts and shorts I have on are both secondhand. My socks and shoes are new but my house is certainly well used.

I’m a big fan of used clothing, but I’m often in the minority. People don’t like used things and I don’t know why.

Clothing, like many other things, is a commodity. In the same way that an ear of corn is an ear of corn is an ear of corn (to some degree). Clothes are clothes are clothes. We often forget this and  fall into a spiral of thinking that clothes aren’t a commodity. That they are something special.

I was volunteering at a school event where the parents were bemoaning how much their kid’s clothes cost. Specifically “Nike Elite” socks. Retail, $20. Ouch. Socks are a bad example here, because socks are difficult to find used, but so many other things are not.

And it’s not crap. A short list of my treasures include an Eddie Bauer jacket, Timberland boots, Nautica shorts, and Gap vest. Good stuff can be used stuff.

I got started shopping used because it was economical and to find wild and crazy shirts (for “wild and crazy guys,” what my high school friend and I called ourselves). My friends and I would leave a thrift store loaded up with clothes that looked like they had been washed with Skittles detergent.

Over time though my shopping has gotten more ethical. It’s not good to consume so many clothes. My microeconomic views (save money) and macroeconomic views coalesced at used clothing. In a traditional open market, a company would be judged by the market and voting with our dollars, we would buy things from good people. That’s not what happens. John Oliver recently highlighted a series of companies that have repeatedly violated (moral) workplace safety conditions.

It’s worth watching the entire clip just to see the hypocrisy of Kathy Lee. It’s like being with a bad boyfriend, telling everyone how awful it was, and then dating his brother.

But my favorite stance on it comes not from satirical news but from a clothing company itself. In this video – founder, Yvon Chouinard, says that the best thing you can do is to buy used clothing. How often do you hear a company saying, hey, there’s something better than what we’re making, but if you have to buy something, we’re here. Just watch, it’s beautiful.

This post is a bit preachy. It’s a hard change. It’s the path of more resistance. The point in reading (things like this) isn’t necessarily to change your mind. When I read a book about an astronaut, I don’t want to become an astronaut. What I want is to encounter some new thoughts that might make my life better. That’s what this post is about. Think about trying on something new.

What I’ve been reading and writing.

A lot, but nothing much to share. I’m unplugged again this week. Less preaching to come next week.